Labour Studies Index

Updated: 2021-01-05

UNITE's Victory at Richmark: Community-Based Union Organizing in Communities of Color

Document type Article
Author Hilgert, Jeff
Author Juravich, Tom
Journal Labor Studies Journal
Volume 24
Date 1999
ISSN 0160-449X
Pages 27-41
URL https://doi.org/10.1177/0160449X9902400104

Abstract

As the labor movement refocuses its commitment to organizing, it is turning increasingly toward organizing in communities of color. We know from quantitative research that workers of color are more likely to organize and are concentrated in low-wage industries that are more sus ceptible to organizing. Despite major victories such as Justice for Janitors in Los Angeles and a string of victories by UNITE in the South, unions have much to learn about organizing in communities of color. This article is an in-depth analysis of UNITE's victory among predominantly El Salvadoran workers at the Richmark plant in Everett, Massachusetts. It is based on interviews with union staff, community activists, and workers at the Richmark plant. Given its unusual circumstances, Richmark is in many ways not a model for organizing. Yet there are important lessons to be learned from the Richmark victory that extend beyond this Everett- based plant and inform organizing in communities of color. First, UNITE did not just enter the El Salvadoran community for this campaign but already had a presence in the community. Second, UNITE organizers recognized and nurtured the rank-and-file leadership that emerged. And, finally, the organizers and staff at UNITE were flexible, adapting both to the situation and to the workers at Richmark. While schooled in a specific model of organizing, they were able to look beyond those models and emerged victorious.